It may not have been a whole lot of fun to watch but Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at least got the job done for the Florida Panthers.
Florida’s win in front of a friends-and-family gathering at BB&T Center saw the Panthers end a three-game home losing streak heading into Thursday’s game at Philadelphia.
Now, with 20 games left and the trade deadline Wednesday afternoon, the Panthers can charge forward in their pursuit of a playoff spot — although if they aren’t better than Tuesday’s game, April tee times may as well be booked now.
“Every point counts, we all know that,” said Jaromir Jagr, who gave Florida a 1-0 lead after a so-so first half of the opening period.
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“But we have to remember, if we play like this, we’re not going to win in Philly. I can guarantee you that. We have to be a lot better than this.”
Carolina, it had appeared, would be the perfect opponent despite beating the Panthers in the previous meeting on Thanksgiving weekend – with Florida firing coach Gerard Gallant in the inglorious afterglow.
Not only had Florida won six of seven against the Canes, not only had Carolina lost six of seven coming in, but they were down a few players as well.
The Hurricanes cut their active roster by dealing Viktor Stalberg to Ottawa Tuesday afternoon and also sent center Jeff Skinner home with what’s said to be an ‘upper body’ injury.
Yet Florida didn’t jump all over the Canes nor put them away.
The Panthers made it 1-0 with 7:25 left in the first when Jagr hammered a Jonathan Huberdeau pass and beat Cam Ward on Florida’s seventh shot of the game.
With 3:23 left before the first intermission, Vincent Trocheck hopped all over a rebound from a Reilly Smith shot and scored to make it 2-0.
As was the case back in what would be Gallant’s final game as Florida’s bench boss, the Hurricanes bounced back after spotting Florida two first period goals.
“For whatever reason, we felt it was over after 20 minutes and gave them the momentum,” Jagr said. “At the end of the night, we were lucky to get the victory. We were lucky to get one point.
“We have to learn we have to play more than 20. We could have scored three or four in the first and we didn’t do it. We have to learn from this.”
The Panthers should have led 3-0 when Nick Bjugstad scored on an extremely early whistle from the officials yet it was the Canes who put the puck in when Roberto Luongo lost his stick and watched Lee Stempniak score from the left side of the cage.
The Canes tied it early in the third when Sebastian Aho made an unreal move in front of the net and got the puck past Luongo.
After a scoreless overtime period, Florida got an opening shootout goal from Sasha Barkov with Luongo (23 saves) doing the rest. Carolina went 0-for-2 in the shootout with Huberdeau icing it on Florida’s third save.
“Obviously, it was a big two points for us after we lost three in a row at home,” Luongo said. “It’s not acceptable for us to go through a stretch like this but we really needed this one.
“It may not have been as beautiful as we would have liked, it got the job done.”